Before I review last weekend’s performance of “Twelve Angry Men,” I want to note that I have watched this project from its conception, from when my good friend, director Nick Orvis ’13, and I good-naturedly fought over lighting designers for our respective productions. I saw its development from a producer’s perspective as a member of Second Stage, and finally got to witness its conclusion as I sat in the audience on closing night last Saturday. So you might not choose to believe me when I tell you that the play was really awesome.
But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can look at the fact that the show sold out all three nights it was performed. On Saturday night when I attended the show, I had to manage a 30-person waitlist and turned away many eager students even after more seats were added to the audience. The unflinching unofficial reviewers on the ACB have been unusually glowing about the performance.
“Twelve Angry Men” is not an easy play to direct or perform. The play tells the story of a jury bent on convicting a 19-year-old boy to death for the murder of his father until one juror forces them to reconsider. All 12 jury members are on stage for the entire 90-minute duration of the play, a marathon by acting standards. Furthermore, staging complications necessarily arise when you have a play in which the entire action of the play is people talking around a table. I found the very script of “Twelve Angry Men” to be repetitive, awkwardly worded, and at times overly pedagogical. All these factors inherent to the work itself conspired against an engaging performance.
However, I was completely engaged from beginning to end. Much of this can certainly be attributed to the actors, who gave excellent performances across the board. An ensemble show is only as good as every individual actor involved, and I found all the acting to be uniquely wonderful without any actor overshadowing the rest. Even though many of the actors had their backs to me for most of the show, I got a good sense of their unique personalities and motives simply from their mannerisms and vocal tone. The standout performance for me was Peter Cramer ’14, who played an almost villainous juror determined to hand out a death sentence regardless of the consequences. Cramer’s explosions of rage and frustration were among the most gripping moments of the show, while still remaining firmly rooted in the character’s emotions.
My favorite aspect of the show was the set. Orvis and set designer Jillian Ruben ’12 solved the issue of an inherently two dimensional set by staging the production on the floor of the ’92 Theater, with audience members on either side of the jury table. From my seat in the back row, I had an almost birds-eye view of the action and could easily see all the actors, an impressive feat for a show almost in the round. I had the sense of peering down on this scene as the action unfolded, and that unique staging experience made the show for me.
Overall, the performance was a great success for Nick and the entire cast and crew with, in my humble opinion, no major weaknesses. They triumphed over a complicated script to create a piece of theater that was as powerful as it was entertaining.